TIFF Film Review: ‘Dolemite Is My Name’ is Eddie Murphy’s Triumphant Return to the Big Screen

Image result for dolemite is my name movie2019 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Eddie Murphy is a comedic legend who has reached a status that many can only dream about. With nearly 60 on-screen credits to his name, Murphy has transformed comedy and paved the way for other entertainers such as Keegan-Michael Key, Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle, and Chris Rock. After decades in the business, he remains well-loved by the industry and fans alike. For his legions of fans, the comedian’s latest feature is worth the wait. “Dolemite Is My Name” is Eddie Murphy’s triumphant return to the big screen. It’s a project that’s well-suited to his charismatic persona as he plays the pioneering multi-hyphenate Rudy Ray Moore.

Rudy Ray Moore is an extraordinary figure, and one of Murphy’s key inspirations. Not only was Rudy a comedian, but he was also a singer, actor, and producer. In music history, Rudy is considered the Godfather of Rap due to his rhyming style. One of the most recognized faces in the Blaxploitation genre, Rudy’s work has transcended time and inspired countless individuals. Directed by Craig Brewer, “Dolemite is My Name” is a fun, care-free film that aims to showcase one of the most interesting men in the game.

At the beginning of Rudy’s journey, he’s a struggling comedian working in a record shop. Disappointed that his career hasn’t taken off, he still dreams of making it big. One day, he meets a homeless man that rhymes about a character named Dolemite. Rudy decides to incorporate the stories into his act, adopting the persona for the stage. These colorful stories propel him to local notoriety. After achieving success in the comedy world, Rudy aims a bit higher. Bored with theater offerings, Rudy devises a plan to create his own film- the kind that he wants to see on screen.

Rudy’s film assembles an exciting cast of talents, both established and rising. This also applies to the casting of “Dolemite Is My Name.” Titus Burgess stars as Rudy’s right hand man and accountant, Theodore Toney. Keegan-Michael Key is screenwriter Jerry Jones. Craig Robinson is music man Ben Taylor, and Mike Epps joins as friend Jimmy Lynch. “Dolemite Is My Name” also brings back the talented Wesley Snipes. An exciting cast addition, he lights up the screen as actor/director D’Urville Martin. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is a standout as Lady Reed, completely stealing the show. Additionally, there are some fun appearances by Snoop Dogg, Chris Rock, and T.I. The best parts of “Dolemite is My Name” are Rudy’s relationships with his friends and family. Despite his cluelessness at times, he is a natural leader who looks after his people.

Brewer’s direction and Murphy’s behind-the-scenes involvement make a thoughtful tribute to Rudy Ray Moore’s legacy. Scenes from Rudy’s films are carefully recreated, (primarily from “Dolemite” and “Human Tornado“) down to Dolemite’s on-screen costumes (by Ruth E. Carter). Watching familiar scenes re-enacted is fun for “Dolemite” fans, as well as new audiences. However, for uneducated viewers, the film provides a lack of context surrounding black seventies culture. Rudy Ray Moore was not the first Blaxploitation filmmaker, but this will cause some viewers to to believe he was. Rudy merely carved out a niche for himself. Overlooking the lack of historical information, “Dolemite Is My Name” hits all the right notes.

The heart of “Dolemite Is My Name” is believing in yourself, but what really drives the film is its love for the black audience. While Murphy’s feature may drum up some buzz in awards circles, it isn’t intended for them. Eddie Murphy stays true to his comedic roots and creates something that fans of his work will love. Netflix also knows the power of Murphy’s fanbase, having hit a home run for its original programming. Some viewers might not necessarily “get it,” but this is a film dedicated to the fans, and Rudy himself. “Dolemite Is My Name” is meant to be a good time. For most of us, that is enough.

“Dolemite Is My Name” is distributed by Netflix and opens in select theaters on October 4. It will be available to stream internationally on October 25.

GRADE: (★★★1/2)

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